32 reasons to give thanks in the NFL

Arian Foster

For those who have had the pleasure and pain of observing Michael Vick(notes) and his travails during his eight seasons in the NFL, there is a reason Thursday to give thanks for Vick’s on- and off-field performance this season.

So far, it’s proof that people can take a shot at redemption and make it work.

Of course, the “so far” qualifier has to be used for Vick. The disturbing nature of his crimes is not easily forgiven and, for most, never forgotten. But Vick’s combination of stellar play and off-field openness to this point deserves praise. People can change, they can turn something awful into something good if you give them a chance.

So to all those who fought for this, from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to former coach Tony Dungy to Eagles coach Andy Reid to, most importantly, Vick himself, here is a figurative toast to your actions.

Vick may not win the Most Valuable Player award this season, as that remains to be decided. But there is little doubt that he is the most valuable story. He is a symbol to others that second chances work. At least so far.

In that spirit, here are the reasons fans from each and every team should be thankful:

AFC EAST

Chan Gailey with Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes).
(Getty Images)

Buffalo Bills – Give thanks for having a coach in Chan Gailey with the guts to not only to change his quarterback, going from Trent Edwards(notes) to Ryan Fitzpatrick, but also to get rid of Edwards. Not that Edwards is a bad guy, but nothing drags a team down more than a quarterback controversy between two mediocre passers. Fitzpatrick may not be the long-term answer, but at least the Bills aren’t wondering anymore who their leader is during the season.

Miami Dolphins – In a room full of young players who don’t know much about facing the media and talking on a regular basis, the Dolphins at least have Ricky Williams(notes) and his gracious character. At age 33, Williams already has a lifetime of wisdom to dispense to others, much of it featuring a wonderfully positive twist.

New England Patriots – In a season when Randy Moss(notes) and Laurence Maroney(notes) have been traded and Kevin Faulk(notes) was lost to injury, the Patriots have managed to go 8-2 as they prepare to play Thanksgiving Day. How? Give thanks to stubborn unknown and/or undersized guys like BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes) and Danny Woodhead(notes). The Patriots boast the only backfield in the league where the first- and second-string guys are both undrafted.

New York Jets – In most seasons, you’re fortunate if you get one comeback game that’s anything like any one of the Jets’ past four victories. The Jets have escaped seemingly certain defeat at the hands of Houston, Cleveland, Detroit and Denver to climb to the top of the AFC at 8-2. Lucky? Yes. Good? Pretty much. Both? No question. Typical naysayer gripe: It’s all about to crash. Dreamers will say it’s a sign. Either way, enjoy as the Jets play Thursday night against the Bengals.

AFC NORTH

Anquain Boldin catches a touchdown pass.
(Getty Images)

Baltimore Ravens – They set the standard for defensive play in this era of football. However, as the Ray Lewis(notes) Era starts to come to a close, give thanks for the presence of wide receiver Anquan Boldin(notes), a man who plays with an esprit de corps that should lead an offensive renaissance in Charm City.

Cincinnati Bengals – Oh, what would we do without the Bungles and their rotating and entertaining collection of oddballs, from Chad Ochocinco(notes) to Terrell Owens(notes) to stubbornly conservative owner Mike Brown(notes)? If not for Cincy, how would we know that a team can go from being up 21 points in the second quarter to losing by 18 in the end?

Cleveland Browns – Fans have suffered mightily for all their glory in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. It’s as if this franchise owes interest on a heavy debt for having had either Otto Graham or Jim Brown for all but one year from 1946 to 1965. Now, however, give thanks for having some hope (and one of the greatest names ever for a quarterback) in Colt McCoy(notes). Yeah, it’s early, but he looks like the real deal.

Pittsburgh Steelers – For those who enjoy history, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is a walking piece of it. Between playing and coaching, LeBeau has spent 52 years roaming the fields and sidelines of the NFL. He reinvented part of the game. Thankfully, he got into the Pro Football Hall of Fame before someone else had to speak on his behalf. Every football fan, not just Steelers supporters, should give thanks.

AFC SOUTH

Gary Kubiak with QB Matt Schaub(notes).
(Getty Images)

Houston Texans – Give thanks for tomorrow after suffering through some of the franchise’s most brutal losses this season. If the past two weeks haven’t put a nail in the coffin of coach Gary Kubiak (hey, Gary, there are people outside of your ex-Broncos circle who you might want to get ideas from), then owner Bob McNair just doesn’t quite get it. Hey, at least they score points, which makes the games fun.

Indianapolis Colts – For those who complain that Peyton Manning(notes) hasn’t won enough titles, give thanks for every day that you get to watch him play. As people in Denver, Buffalo, Miami and San Francisco will testify, it can be a brutal wait after that great quarterback is gone.

Jacksonville Jaguars – How about being happy you have a team? By all rights, the Jaguars should be playing in Los Angeles by now if the business people and politicians out west could get their act together. Despite that, the good folks of J-ville just don’t seem to get behind this team the way they get behind the college programs at Florida, Florida State and Georgia. Pretty telling.

Tennessee Titans – The great thing about the NFL is that being 5-5 with six games to go, particularly in this division, puts you right in the middle of the playoff hunt – even when your starting quarterback goes goofy in a juvenile spat with fans and the coach. With Chris Johnson around and the team still trying to figure out Randy Moss, there’s still a chance to right the ship before this season is done.

AFC WEST

Broncos QB Kyle Orton(notes) is sacked.
(Getty Images)

Denver Broncos – When you’re a football fan living in the Mile High City and the team is bad … who cares? You live in one of the most beautiful places in the country. Take a drive to Frisco, pull off the road, walk a couple of miles, look at the mountains and remember that outside of some West Coast cities (Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego), the rest of the country has nothing on you.

Kansas City Chiefs – It hasn’t been the easiest ride to the top of the division and the hold is hardly strong, but there is no question that the Chiefs are on the right track under GM Scott Pioli, maturing head coach Todd Haley and superb coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Yeah, Haley could occasionally use a chill pill, but he’s getting there.

Oakland Raiders – It has taken three frustrating seasons, but the devoted fans of the Raiders are finally seeing why Darren “Run DMC” McFadden was the No. 4 overall pick in 2008. He’s special and looks almost as good as the BBQ feasts that Guy Fieri showed off during a great “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” episode from the Coliseum parking lot.

San Diego Chargers – I know it has been a frustrating run, not winning a Super Bowl at some point in the past five years when the Chargers have had the best overall talent in the NFL. Thankfully, quarterback Philip Rivers(notes) is there for the long haul. Rivers would be getting more MVP talk if Michael Vick wasn’t going nuts and the Patriots weren’t 8-2 with Tom Brady(notes).

NFC EAST

Jason Garrett celebrates with QB Jon Kitna(notes).
(Getty Images)

Dallas Cowboys – Hey, you’ve got a really cool stadium, finally, for what that’s worth. OK, there’s some hope that offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will get it together. He’s off to a 2-0 start and the team is obviously playing hard under him, if not for him. That said, he has a long way to go before he makes the fans believers, and that’s what matters to owner Jerry Jones.

New York Giants – That loss at Philadelphia was frustrating, and the turnovers are getting way past the point of annoying. However, there is no question that the Giants have the talent (and the coaching now that defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is running the show) to make a Super Bowl run.

Philadelphia Eagles – As stated, Michael Vick has become the best story of the year in the NFL. I know some people will never forgive him for his crimes, but such is life. Right now, Vick is becoming everything everyone ever believed he could accomplish. When athletes do that, even for just a short time, it’s a breathtaking thing to watch.

Washington Redskins – Well, you have Mike Shanahan … and Donovan McNabb(notes) … and Albert Haynesworth(notes). Somehow, I don’t see those three hooking up for some post-feast pumpkin pie. The good thing is that the Redskins have Shanahan, and owner Dan Snyder is staying out of the way – for now.

NFC NORTH

Brian Urlacher(notes) signals against the Packers.
(Getty Images)

Chicago Bears – Raise a glass and toast the fact that, despite being 32 years old, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is still playing like a 20-something and leading a resurgent defense that should vault the Bears into the playoffs. Yeah, the offense is still a work in progress, but Urlacher is still worth the price of admission.

Detroit Lions – In these trying times when they are losing games they should win, remember that the Lions finally seem to have hope of winning at all under second-year coach Jim Schwartz. He is going to get this thing straightened out, despite his recent spate of mistakes.

Green Bay Packers – In 2008, some people were ready to make Ted Thompson a scapegoat for the Brett Favre(notes) mess. Now that it’s obvious Favre is the reason for the mess, thank the football gods for Thompson’s football countenance and patience. The Packers are poised to win for a long time.

Minnesota Vikings – Firing a coach isn’t reason for joy, but the quietly suffering folks of the Twin Cities don’t have much going this year. Now, if they could just get rid of Favre by the end of the week, the future might be more promising. And, oh yeah, Leslie Frazier is going to be really good.

NFC SOUTH

Matt Ryan(notes) leads the Falcons on a drive.
(Getty Images)

Atlanta Falcons – I’m sure a whole lot of folks in Hotlanta are still a little steamed that Michael Vick is gone, but quarterback Matt Ryan has kept those people quiet as he has led the Falcons to the best record in the NFC. Matty Ice may not be as spectacular as Vick, but he’s still special.

Carolina Panthers – Well, hmmm, errr, uh … at least the season will be over soon. Plus, no matter how bad this season gets, it can never match the ugliness of what went on in 2001, when they were 1-15 on the field and even worse off it because of Rae Carruth.

New Orleans Saints – The good people of N’awlins certainly deserve whatever blessings they can get after dealing with Hurricane Katrina, but that last Super Bowl was pretty sweet. Saints fans will be giving thanks for many years to come over that one.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – For the first time, the Bucs have a legitimate candidate for franchise quarterback. Trent Dilfer(notes), love ya, but Josh Freeman(notes) has a way bigger upside than you ever had. At 7-3, Tampa Bay is overachieving in a pretty significant way, but it’s definitely on the right track.

NFC WEST

Larry Fitzgerald(notes) battles the Chiefs.
(Getty Images)

Arizona Cardinals – No question, this season has been rough, particularly after the city enjoyed the best back-to-back seasons in the team’s time in the Southwest. However, you still have a coach with a clue in Ken Whisenhunt. If you can find a quarterback, then you should be able to keep great wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

St. Louis Rams – Thanksgiving and Christmas for years to come should be covered for the Rams in the form of quarterback Sam Bradford(notes). Of all the great young passers, such as Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan, Colt McCoy, Matthew Stafford(notes) and Mark Sanchez(notes), Bradford could become the best of them. And he could be the best by quite a margin.

San Francisco 49ers – At least you won’t have to pay relocation costs when you hire Jim Harbaugh away from Stanford. Oh, by the way, the last guy you hired from my alma mater didn’t turn out too bad. Don’t expect that much, but Harbaugh will be really good in a few years.

Seattle Seahawks – Next to Minnesota, nobody suffers in quiet desperation like Seahawks fans, who keep showing up year after year. Give thanks that the ownership of Paul Allen is around to keep the team in town and, generally, under sane control.